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Bluegrass, Baseball Bio and Biloxi

12 April 2006

Another diverse, but fascinating array of new books has arrived at Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas, two of them focusing on fascinating people and the third covering massive gambling growth in Mississippi.

The three new works are Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights: High Rolling With Happy Chandler's Wayward Son, Dan Chandler by John Smith (251 pages, hardbound, $24.95); The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball by Scott Gray (227 pages, hardbound, $23.95) and Resorting to Casinos: The Mississippi Gambling Industry edited by Denise von Herrmann (182 pages, hardbound, $45).

The biography of Dan Chandler is a history of Las Vegas and Nevada gaming, a biography of a most colorful figure and an examination of how the industry has operated and will operate in the future.

"... Early on at Caesars Palace it became crystal clear that one reason so many people in the casino business are so protective of their turf is because the business is so damn simple a manicured chimp can do it," Chandler observes.

As master biographer Running Scared (Steve Wynn), No Limit (Bob Stupak) and historian, Smith describes Chandler, "... He arrived in Las Vegas as the gambling capital's mob days were fading, but Caesars Palace had no shortage of characters--and he became intimate friends with super high rollers and stars. ..."

Chandler died in Kentucky in 2004. This book, illustrated, indexed and packed with stories, incidents, observations and above all, with colorful confessions, is great summer reading and a fine gift item for those who "remember the days."

The virtual Vegas who's who includes Jimmy "Blue Eyes" Alo; Bobby Baldwin; Lem Banker; Benny Binion; Bear Bryant; Jimmy Chagra; the Chandler family; David Chesnoff; Burton Cohen; Carl Cohen; Tony Cornero; Moe Dalitz, Eric Drache; Mokey Faccinto; Jack Franzi; Jackie Gaughan; Murray Gennis; Oscar Goodman and Wingy Grober. Also, Bill Harrah; Barron Hilton; Kirk Kerkorian; Ralph Lamb; Meyer Lansky; Bob Martin; Kerry Packer; Cliff Perlman; Ash Resnick; Tony Salerno; Dean Shendal; Bugsy Siegel; Tony Spilotro; Lyle Stuart; Bob Stupak; Stu Ungar; Billy Walters; Sandy Waterman; Billy Weinberger and Steve Wynn.

Chandler once observed: "The fine hotel schools at Cornell and UNLV will teach you to properly place the mint on the pillow, but they won't do as damn thing to help you learn about the gaming instinct. It's that instinct that catches players and keeps them. The accountant knows what's in the bank account, but it's the grifter or at least that grift sense, that help you read a player's character. ..."

Young, aggressive mid-management people, those who yearn the title "host," will gain a better understanding of the industry and the people who run it in this memoir and street-smart tutorial.

Where Chandler stepped into a successful business, Bill James remade the business he loved. He revolutionized the way bettors, teams, players and fans looked at baseball numbers forever. In the early 80s, seemingly out of nowhere, came James -- off the Kansas plains into statistical compilations everywhere. Sabermetrics was his game and it gave millions of people a new way of looking at performances, records, even salary evaluations when it came time to bargain with management or make vote for a rookie or most valuable player. Like the old Western movies came the cry: "Who IS THIS GUY?"

Well, now we get the big picture. Scott Gray, tells us how The Mind of Bill James operates.

It wasn't an easy road for James -- money was short, he was undiscovered, he needed a major publisher or someone in the baseball business to discover him, to believe in him.

James, who dances to his own music, is not an organized person. He's a guy who loves to swim upstream when others are going in the other direction (some call it being "contrarian"). He had classic feuds with the Elias Bureau in New York, which offers sports statistics and records research for a fee; and often argued with experts about how many "trials" were required before a statistic was considered valid.

As the book jacket says, the book "... tells a story of how a gifted outsider inspired a new understanding of baseball ... an eye-opening portrait of baseball's virtuoso analyst and a treasury of his idiosyncratic genius."

Although not indexed or illustrated (you'll see what James looks like from the "bobblehead" artwork on the cover), this is the story of a man who understands baseball perhaps better than any writer or statistical aficionado ever, but that's only my opinion.

The amazing growth of Mississippi gambling has of course triggered interest in other states legalizing or expanding the industry. For those interested in the political, sociological, legal, moralistic and economic factors which came into play in Mississippi, this book is marvelous reference and time-saver.

The editor is associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi. Here she takes the reader to Mississippi's sometimes dark past when the mob was involved; to the early days of political wrangling; to the racial politics of casino gambling in the Delta. From there she tries to answer the question whether casinos were a solution for state economic growth.

Other papers which the author include involve the impact of casinos on municipal revenue, expenditures and fiscal health; financial implications on state and local education; crime and costs of criminal justice and the future of the casino resort industry.

There are hundreds of time-saving reference sources here and the book is packed with charts and tables. It too could be used as a textbook for those taking either a pro or con approach on a casino measure in another state.

Similar in approach to the fine classic study of what occurred in other states, The Last Resort (Success and Failure in Campaigns for Casinos) by John Dombrink and William Thompson, published in 1990, this is a vital focus on what has happened in Mississippi and what the future holds there and elsewhere.

Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites: